HAZUS is a standardized methodology and software program developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that combines hazard layers with national databases, and applies standardized loss estimation and risk assessment methodology.
Upon deploying HAZUS, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) experienced problems updating data within HAZUS and is now in the third phase of a project to implement a Web-based system that simplifies the process for inputting data into HAZUS.
HAZUS works with ArcGIS to allow state and local emergency managers model damage to a structure or group of structures caused by an earthquake, flood or hurricane. Those estimates can be used by elected officials to expedite requests for disaster recovery assistance and improve building codes. Emergency managers can use the estimates to preposition resources ahead of a disaster and get an estimate of the damage shortly thereafter.
One of the problems the SCEMD experienced with HAZUS is that it’s difficult to update the data on which estimates are based due to complex connections between the data within HAZUS. To make that easier, John Knight, a retired risk assessment coordinator with the SCEMD, in 2006 persuaded FEMA to fund the development of an application to automate the process. In 2007, South Carolina developed that application into a Web portal.
The Comprehensive Data Management System Web Portal is a data-management system that allows the state to request a county’s data, check it for accuracy and completeness and then provide it back to the county via a password-protected Web site. “It allows us to use the most accurate, up-to-date information that the counties will provide us,” said Melissa Berry, a risk assessment coordinator with the SCEMD. “The other benefit is that if a county is willing to upload their data set and a disaster happens and they can no longer run their analysis because they don’t have power at their [emergency operations center] — there’s a flood or they’re busy out in the field — I’ve got their data here and I can run their analysis using their data off site.”
Berry considers that one of the major selling points when she approaches counties about participating in the system.
Implementing the Portal
The portal went live in October 2008, and a letter was sent to emergency managers in all 46 counties requesting an update to each county’s five essential facilities (police and fire stations, emergency operations centers, hospitals and schools) in the original HAZUS database by January 2009.
Half of the state’s counties provided updates at that time, which was more than the 15 the state expected would participate.
The SCEMD is about to start its next update of HAZUS data, and the division is considering ways to encourage increased participation. “This year it’s going to be tied to some of our initiatives here at EMD so that there’s more incentive for the counties to participate because of funding opportunities,” Berry said.
Though the comprehensive data management system on which South Carolina’s portal is built is available on FEMA’s Web site, Florida is the only other state that has piloted a similar Web portal.
[Photo courtesy of Marvin Nauman/FEMA.]